RABAT, Morocco, 28 June (United Nations Information Centre) — On its concluding day, the International Conference on the Question of Jerusalem focused on two issues: challenges faced by Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem, including in the realms of education, employment and entrepreneurship; and the international community’s support for Palestinian rights in the city.
Organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people, the Conference is being held under the overall theme “The Question of Jerusalem after 50 years of Occupation and 25 years of the Oslo Accords”.
SHOROQ NAMMARI, Palestinian Vision, speaking during the plenary session on the theme “Coming of age under occupation: Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem”, discussed the difficult prospects for the post‑Oslo generation in East Jerusalem. She briefed on the obstacles they faced, including the constant need to prove residency in order to retain the right to live in the city, and how newly married Palestinian couples in East Jerusalem faced legal difficulties in living together if one of them happened to be from outside the city. The accepted age for Israeli authorities to grant marriage certificates in East Jerusalem was 25 years for women and 35 years for men, she said. Such obstacles curtailed the ability of couples to maintain ties with Palestinian society at large, which led to the isolation of East Jerusalemites from the rest of the West Bank. She focused on aspects of Israeli policy, namely nationality and residence permits, the separation wall and the demolition of houses, calling upon the international community to help end the occupation because it had a responsibility for what continued to happen in Jerusalem. She added that construction permits were increasingly difficult to obtain, leading to anarchic construction practices.
ALI GHAITH, a Palestinian journalist, discussed the politics of education in East Jerusalem, saying that Israel was working to introduce its own programmes into Palestinian schools with the aim of strengthening the occupation. Since 1967, Israel had taken many decisions to reduce the gaps between East and West Jerusalem and to transition from the Palestinian school curriculum to the Israeli one. He explained that the multiplicity of school authorities — Waqf, Israeli, private Palestinian and UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] schools — had compounded the confusion over curricula. Furthermore, the lack of enough classrooms had led to an estimated 16,000 children missing out on school, referred to as “vanished children”. Additionally, since Palestinian textbooks used in the city were printed in Israel, the latter vetted them for content, he said, adding that Palestinian students in Palestinian‑run schools found it hard to have their graduation certificates recognized by universities in Haifa and Nazareth. That was in addition to the bias against Palestinian students when they took psychometric tests to enter Israeli universities. The consequences of those policies included a high rate of dropouts and early marriages, he noted, calling for outside investment in the education sector and urging the international community to exert pressure on Israeli education programmes in Jerusalem to take the national and cultural realities of Palestinian youth into consideration.
SAMI MSHASHA, UNRWA External Relations and Communications, discussed employment and entrepreneurship for youth under occupation, emphasizing that the absence of an intergenerational strategy uniting all Palestinian institutions was pushing young people into the hands of the Israeli occupation. He said the slashing of UNRWA funding would negatively affect nearly 5.4 million Palestinian refugees as the announced reduction of 80 per cent of United States funding to the Agency threatened to reduce its services in education, health, microcredit and others. Lamenting the lack of coordination among civil society in the city, he said that the disproportionate focus on vocational training and employment in the Sha’fat refugee camp run by UNRWA had not helped to provide employment in other parts of the city. He stressed the need to train young people and to give them the opportunity to actively participate in political life.
MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH, Minister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction and representative of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Conference, said the Palestinian Authority should be fully in charge of education in East Jerusalem and should take greater care of young people. He also stressed the importance of sustaining UNRWA and its activities.
RANDA SINIORA, a civil society activist, pointed out that the condition of girls and women had become more serious than ever under the occupation. Israel was trying to impose a Jewish character on Jerusalem by implementing religious law in such civil matters as divorce and adoption, she said, adding that women were suffering because of the differences between the two judicial systems.
OMAR NABIL NASSER SOLÓRZANO, Ambassador of Venezuela to Morocco, called upon the international community to ensure adherence to United Nations resolutions on Jerusalem and condemned the decision by the President of the United States to transfer that country’s embassy to Jerusalem, as well as all measures aimed at changing the city’s status.
MOSHE AMIRAV, Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, expressed the dream of a single Jerusalem with two municipalities and two flags, calling upon the city’s Palestinians to participate in municipal elections, which would help them to benefit from a third of the municipal budget.
ABDALLAH SIAM, Deputy Governor of Jerusalem in the Palestinian Authority, said the Israeli occupier was pushing young people to despair and closing all doors to the future in their faces. He wondered what their prospects could be in such a setting.
DANIEL SEIDEMANN, Terrestrial Jerusalem, said that young people had the ability to resist and adapt to the situation on the ground.
MUNIB YUNNAN, World Council of Churches, opposed any Palestinian participation in municipal elections, saying that would give legitimacy to the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem. He called for putting residency at the top of Palestinian concerns to stop the community’s exodus from the city.
ZIAD ABU ZAYYAD, former Minister for Jerusalem Affairs in the Palestinian Authority, remarked that, for Palestinians, participation in municipal elections was not an issue of improving people’s living conditions but rather a political matter since the situation was not only a case of intercommunal conflict, but an occupation. Thus, participation in the Israeli political system would mean acceptance of Jerusalem’s annexation.
AMNEH BADRAN, Professor at Al‑Quds University, discussed the difficult situation of the children of Jerusalem, stressing the need for them to have appropriate education and training. She also called for special attention to the condition of children in Israeli prisons.
MOHAMED SALEM CHERKAOUI, Director General of Morocco’s Al‑Quds Endowment, said it was necessary to enable Palestinians on the ground to meet the challenges imposed upon them. He called upon the international community to release the necessary funds for projects in the areas of health, education, reconstruction and assistance to people in need.
UFUK ULUTAŞ, Chairman of the Centre for Strategic Research in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, said his country supported a two‑State solution and was present in Jerusalem through its development agencies. He said the Palestinian issue was above politics in Turkey. Emphasizing the humanitarian and cultural dimensions of the issue, he said that ending the occupation was the ultimate goal.
HALIT ERIN, Director, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Research Centre in Istanbul, Turkey, presented the OIC’s cultural actions carried out by OIC in Jerusalem, including the organization of conferences and meetings on historical, cultural, civilizational and anthropological aspects of the Holy City. He noted that OIC’s interventions also concerned other areas, such as providing assistance in the fields of health, education and reconstruction.
ROBERTO VALENT, Special Representative of the United Nations Development Programme Administrator’s Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People, discussed the right of Palestinians rights to development, calling for coordinated efforts in accordance with common priorities. He said there was need for multilateral programmes and a comprehensive development involving the participation of everyone, including civil society, and emphasized the right to development with a view to leaving no one behind.
MR. ZAYYAD said that assistance to the Palestinian people should not be politicized, emphasizing the need to maintain support far from the glare of politics. He also expressed his satisfaction with the Moroccan cultural centre under construction in the heart of Jerusalem, saying it constituted true support for young Palestinians.
In response to a question from an Israeli speaker as to how the population of Gaza was represented at the Conference, Palestinian speakers said that Israeli actors in the peace camp should rather focus on ending the occupation, explaining, however, that when participants from Gaza — unaffiliated to Hamas — had been invited for previous conferences, Israel had not granted them exit permits.
MR. SIAM called upon the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to establish a dedicated structure or committee to ensure the protection of Jerusalem’s cultural identity and historical heritage.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, delivered closing remarks, emphasizing that Palestinians were tolerant and not afraid of welcoming other people. He also stressed the need to redouble efforts to defend the two‑State formula, asserting that the solidarity of Palestinians of all confessions had pre‑empted the attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to change the status of Jerusalem, as seen during the prayers at Al‑Aqsa Mosque and in the closing of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He said those living in West Jerusalem enjoyed a better standard of living than those in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, noting that unemployment in East Jerusalem had reached the highest level in years, surpassing that of Gaza. During the last few years, young people had been facing discrimination by the occupying Power and there was a sophisticated form of ethnic cleansing under way.
He said Israel had ignored a Palestinian offer to agree on withdrawal to the pre‑1967 borders and had instead focused on Hamas. In the context of the heavy human toll during the Great March of Return protests from March to June 2018, he reiterated the call for an international mission for the protection of Palestinian civilians. The Palestinians, and the international community in general, wished to discuss all details of a peace agreement in a comprehensive manner, including the question of Jerusalem, he said, adding that the decision by the United States to move its embassy to the city had complicated Palestinian‑Israeli negotiations on other issues, including refugees. He called upon the United States and Israel to negotiate in good faith, while emphasizing the need for greater engagement with European countries. He suggested that the next Conference could be held in Europe close to the Christian world, perhaps in Rome.
FOUAD AKHRIF, Director of the Mashreq, Gulf, Arab and Islamic Organizations in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Morocco, underlined that the message of King Mohammed VI had elevated the Conference and demonstrated Morocco’s clear position regarding Palestine and Palestinian rights. The only possibility for a fair and just settlement of the conflict was a two‑State solution based on international law. The Conference was set in the framework of international and regional efforts for the realization of Palestinian rights, he said, calling on all to remain committed to an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Mr. Mansour emphasized the importance of redoubling efforts in defending the two‑State formula if the international community, among them Israel and the United States, did not want to experience an explosion among Palestinians in Jerusalem. He called upon the international community to create the conditions in which all could end the current tragedy, underlining that Israel could not continue to oppress and humiliate Palestinians and still expect peace.